Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Top Seven Changes in Portland Since Our Spring 2007 Visit

As you know, Nicole and I went up to Portland a few weeks ago for a wedding, and we stayed a couple of extra days in order to see family and friends, and take care of some business. One thing about being born and raised somewhere, then moving away, then revisiting that place, is that the changes to that particular place can be quite noticeable. Over those few days, here are the top seven things I noticed different about my city than they were when we were last there:

7. GI Joe's Shortens Name to "Joe's"

I know that they'd been unofficially calling themselves Joe's for years - "Go to Joe's, Grab the Gear, Seize the Weekend" was a longtime slogan - but there's still just something intangibly off about them actually making an official change. Perhaps it's the traditionalist in me.

This also, of course, casts a fear in me that someday, Fred Meyer will officially change its name to Freddy's....

6. Lucky Lab Beer Hall Opens in NW Portland

The things I love the most about The Lucky Labrador Brewpub is that they have dartboards, and they are smoke-free. As far as environment (ambience and charm, that is) goes, Biddy McGraw's and The Horse Brass Pub have the Lab beat hands down, but when you want to invite friends out for a night of darts, I'd rather have them all meet at a place where tobacco smoke won't ruin anyone's evening.

And now, they've opened up a new location near Nob Hill (which is in NW Portland for those who don't know), which was quite sparsely populated on the Friday night we visited, but it didn't matter. I didn't venture to see the darts are there, but I did sample their special brew whose name I have already forgotten, but has a Simpsons' Mayor Quimby theme to it.

5. Burgerville Now Sells Hot Dogs

Granted, it's for a limited time (through November), but it's something I'd never seen before at that particular chain. It reminded me of when I was a kid 25+ years ago, when the Rockwood Burger King actually sold hot dogs. Burgerville splits the franks the long way and grills them, then melts Tillamook cheddar cheese over the top. So delicious! Actually, the Dairy Queen on SE Division St. and 56th Ave.(across from Franklin HS) used to cook them this way, too, though I think they switched over to boring ol' boiling later on.

4. IKEA!

No longer does a Portlander have to drive all the way up to Renton to spend the better part of their day wandering in awe through the massive warehouse maze of IKEA...

I think that when we were there last spring, the big sign had already been erected, but the store hadn't opened.

I still laugh at the idea of someone shopping for a bed or a closet system at IKEA and then trying to lug it home on MAX...

3. All Skipper's Restaurants Shut Down

(I couldn't find an image for Skipper's, and it wasn't for lack of trying. Who knew it'd be so hard to find one?)

I'm sure that not too many people care about this as much as I do, especially given the waning interest in the chain over the last decade. But I have many fond memories of going with my family to Skipper's on all-you-can-eat Tuesdays, taking that little plastic basket up for more skin-on fries or delicious cod. I loved their tartar mouth waters at the very thought of it. I enjoyed reading the old 19th-century newspaper ads printed on the table tops (same as Wendy's used to do). And who else remembers the slogan, "If the fish is any fresher, it's still swimming in the sea."

I marked their demise on the day I drove by the San Rafael store and happened to notice a banner proclaiming that Skipper's began selling cheeseburgers. Cheeseburgers.

2. I-205 Light Rail

I was one of the first passengers on the original MAX line that ran from downtown Portland deep into Gresham, over Labor Day weekend in 1986. It was a nice little punctuation mark to end the summer before my first day of high school the next day. Years later, I first rode the westside MAX extension on none other than January 1, 2000 - when nobody was 100% certain if Y2K threats were going to become reality (they obviously didn't). I never rode either the Airport MAX or The Expo Center spur, but I did take the Portland Streetcar downtown a lot when I worked along its route. Notice I don't identify these by their color-coded line names. I never liked that idea, so why acknowledge it?

So now, only 25 years* after I-205 opened with its mysterious "lanes" and "exits" graded along its outer edges (am I alone here? Did anyone else ever wonder when they were going to finish those?) and the unused tunnel just north of Division St., Tri-Met has begun to construct a light rail spur that goes from Gateway down to Clackamas Town Center. Say what you will about outrageous costs, or what have you, but the only word that comes to my mind is, "Yay!" because that's my favorite quadrant of my hometown - Southeast! Plus, my sister will have a MAX stop so much closer to her house, which will help her out a lot.

1. Neighborhood Wireless Intermetts in Portland

They talked about it for years, and now, they've done it. Provided by MetroFi, I was able to enjoy wireless Internet at the home we stayed in during our trip (in St. Johns). We never had to wonder where a hotspot would be if we decided to go somewhere to surf - just go anywhere!

*According to, the portion of I-205 south of I-84 was finished in 1975, and the northern portion opened in December of 1983. However, The Columbian apparently did a retrospective article which says that it opened in 1982. I was starting the 5th grade when the Glenn Jackson Bridge opened (I remember, it was big news), so that confirms it (to me, anyway) as opening in the fall of '82.